Olympic Games would transform industrial district
Rechristened as Midtown, area straddling South Boston, South End would host Olympic stadium
In its current state, it is a homely industrial district tucked up against the Southeast Expressway, perhaps best known — if it is known at all — as home to the city tow lot.
But in documents filed by the local Olympic organizing committee, this unsightly swath of Boston is rechristened as Midtown, potential location of a temporary Olympic stadium, and one-day site of a new neighborhood to connect South Boston and the South End.
The remaking of the area, known as Widett Circle, is part of the vision described in Olympic bid documents released Wednesday in a kickoff of a public relations campaign by Mayor Martin J. Walsh and local Olympic planners to build enthusiasm for Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Games. About 600 people showed up to a community meeting Wednesday to hear details of the bid, including the potential of 70,000 temporary jobs.
The US Olympic Committee two weeks ago chose Boston to represent the United States in a worldwide contest to host the Games. Boston’s competition could include Rome, Paris, and Berlin — each a former Olympic city. The International Olympic Committee will choose the victor in 2017.
Boston 2024 organizers on Wednesday sought to stem criticism that they have been too tight-lipped about their plans: They repeated for the public the presentation organizers made to the USOC at a private meeting in California in December, as part of their effort to become the US bid city. Organizers on Wednesday also released bid documents and budget plans, though they said they withheld details on potential land and venue costs to protect their negotiating position if Boston wins the Olympics.
Attendees at the community meeting, which was held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, were asked to write their questions on cards. The questions were read aloud and answered by Boston 2024 staff — who kept control of the microphones.
John Fish, head of Suffolk Construction and chairman of Boston 2024, told the crowd that hosting the Olympics would lead to better transportation and housing for the entire state. “There’s no question: These games are a catalyst for economic growth, job creation and prosperity,” he said.
But, he added, “We’re here to listen to your concerns.”
The organizing group, which has been largely led by wealthy white business executives, showed more diversity at the community meeting. The speakers included the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, a prominent African-American pastor, and Rúben Sança, an Olympic runner originally from Cape Verde.
Questions read aloud discussed the breakdown between permanent and temporary sports venues as well as the potential for traffic jams.
A local opposition group, No Boston Olympics, issued an e-mail plea to its supporters Wednesday to attend the community hearing. In what seemed a largely pro-Olympic audience, there was a smattering of applause when a Boston 2024 official read aloud a question from a Dorchester resident who wanted to know why residents weren’t consulted about the bid before it was filed. Boston 2024 president Dan O’Connell pointed out that there were legislative hearings at the State House, but said he offered “my apologies” that the process had not been more open.
The technical presentation of the venue plan Wednesday was led by architect David Manfredi, cochair of the Boston 2024 master planning committee, and Cheri Blauwet, a Paralympian who won the 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathon woman’s wheelchair races.
Under current plans, Widett Circle would be redeveloped in a transformation modeled after the rise of the Innovation District. The site would be the temporary home to a 60,000-seat Olympic stadium, which would take about a year to build. The stadium would be dismantled after the Games and the building materials recycled. That would leave a prime development parcel “at the geographic heart of the urban core,” 2024 organizers wrote in bid documents filed to the USOC.
The plan would turn “a tangle of maintenance yards and city public works buildings into a platform for entertainment and future commercial development that transforms an urban scar into a meaningful seam between neighborhoods,” organizers wrote.
Further, under the proposal, Dorchester Avenue near South Station would “for 16 days in the summer of 2024 be Olympic Boulevard,” Manfredi said in remarks to reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Hospitality barges in the Fort Point Channel would sell concessions, and the Greenway and harbor would be the center for entertainment and public celebration during the Games.
Most of the land in the newly labeled Midtown site is in public ownership, O’Connell said in a response to a question at the evening presentation. A wholesale food preparation operation at the southern end of the site would have to be moved for the redevelopment — at Boston 2024’s expense, he said. One possible new location for the businesses would be the Marine Industrial Park on the South Boston Waterfront, he said.
Local Olympic organizers say the overall venue plan is designed for spectators to get around on public transit and by foot, with 28 of 33 venues within about a six-mile radius.
“We believe the Boston Games can be the most walkable Olympics in modern times,” Manfredi said.
Organizers say the venue plan is bound to change as the bid evolves over coming months.
The 16,000-person Olympic Village in Dorchester, planned for the campus of the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the removable Olympic stadium would be the most difficult to relocate because of their size, O’Connell said. However, if Widett Circle falls through as a location for the stadium, the arena may also work at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, he said.
New details released Wednesday describe the role of the Convention and Exhibition Center, which will host six events in temporary facilities: rhythmic gymnastics, indoor volleyball, taekwondo, judo, wrestling, and table tennis. Each temporary adaptation to the building would seat from 8,000 to 15,000 people.
Weight lifting is planned at a 5,000-person pavilion on the South Boston Waterfront. The City of Lowell would host rowing on the Merrimack River and boxing at the Tsongas Arena. And the cycling velodrome and BMX track are planned for Assembly Square in Somerville.
Backers of the city’s bid may face a movement for a public referendum on the Olympics, potentially launched by Evan Falchuk, a wealthy business executive and former gubernatorial candidate. Options include simply asking voters whether they support or oppose hosting the Games or banning the use of taxpayer dollars for the Olympics, he has said.
Walsh opposes a referendum, but a spokeswoman said earlier this week that “should the public decide to collect signatures for a referendum, that is a right of the people that the mayor fully supports.”
O’Connell, in a meeting with reporters, expressed confidence that voters would back the Olympic effort if it came to a vote.
Private polling conducted by Boston 2024 indicates that the strongest support for the Games comes from Latinos and African-Americans, who said in telephone surveys that they believe the Olympics will create jobs, according to O’Connell. The Games would create 70,000 jobs for up to four years, in travel, tourism, hospitality, and construction, he said.
Public transit upgrades the Games could spur would also benefit poor and minority communities, he said.